Netflix’ Unique Culture, Beautifully Defined

I’m working with five separate clients right now, helping them clarify values expectations for their organizations. I coach their senior executives to identify the values foundation for all staff – leaders, managers, front line staff, everyone – and define those standards in observable, behavioral terms. If you’ve been reading my posts here, you know that I provide very specific direction for this critically important task. That guidance is important because most senior leaders are enthusiastic and not yet skilled in the task of creating appropriate, behaviorally-defined values for their organization members. Over the last 12 years, I and my culture change co-author colleagues at Blanchard have “cracked the code” on valued behavior definition through a lot of hard work and diligent refinement.

A terrific example of clear values expectations was released into the websphere in 2009 in the form of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ terrific 128-slide PowerPoint presentation on Netflix’ “Freedom and Responsibility” culture. If you’ve not seen that presentation and you are interested in high performing, values aligned organizations, you really need to read through it (it’s embedded below).

Netflix has certainly had some significant stumbles recently (2011-2013) but seems to be getting back to their “basics,” now, as described in this document.

I’m surprised when I discover that the senior leaders I’m coaching have usually not seen Hastings’ presentation, as it was celebrated in blog postings around the globe. I share the presentation with my clients not because I think they should “duplicate” the values that obviously work so well for the Netflix business model (and staff and customers!) but to understand how clearly Hastings defines Netflix’ values expectations in tangible, observable terms.

Define the Playing Field

Hastings believes values are the behaviors and skills valued in fellow Netflix employees. The nine specific values, clearly defined, include Judgment, Communication, Impact, Curiosity, Innovation, Courage, Passion, Honesty, and Selflessness.

Hastings boldly states that he expects all Netflix employees to question any actions they deem inconsistent with the organization’s declared values. (That commitment is part of the Courage value.)

Hastings wants a culture that attracts and retains what he calls Stunning Colleagues – stars who are able to responsibly perform amidst the ambiguity of a technology driven, fast-paced market that’s attracting competitors every day.

There is no room for “good performers.” Adequate performance will get an employee – at any level – “cut from the team,” to make room for a star in that role. There is no room for brilliant jerks; if jerks are discovered after Netflix’ thorough hiring process, they are offered a fair severance package . . . and quickly sent packing.

Let the Players Apply their Skills and Commitment on the Defined Field

The Netflix culture does not value process adherence – it values freedom, responsibility, innovation, and self-discipline. It values context, not control – by setting a few rules, high performing, responsible staff can creatively respond to opportunities, recover from the few mistakes they make, and continue the company’s growth and innovation.

For example, Netflix’ stunning colleagues have created a killer iPad application that enables live streaming of hundreds of television shows and movies – at the touch of a button. It is amazing technology that just works.

Hastings creates clear expectations for what a great Netflix corporate citizen looks/acts/sounds like and also maps out the context for those desired behaviors and skills.

There are many more insights to be derived from Reed Hastings’ marvelous foundation of clear values expectations. The key learning for my clients and me is that spending the time to map out exactly how a great citizen will go about accomplishing the organization’s goals will generate fabulous results. Our culture clients have enjoyed increased profits, fast-to-market solutions, talent retention, and employee passion. How will your organization benefit?


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